As the football industry expands, there is a growing undertone evolving that the fans have become the least important aspect. Arguing against this ridiculous notion was inspired by Chelsea’s recent win at Manchester City and the countless jokes about City’s lack of a fan base at the ‘Emptihad’. But even if you think that clubs and players are loyal to their salaries and not much else, no fan should ever think that they aren’t significant to this sport.
If you look at the football sector as a hierarchy, the fans hold much of the power. They may not be able to directly influence decisions all the time but they are the most consistent reason the whole industry thrives. Think about it this way: if you took the fans out of the system, what would be left? As a player, there is no fun in working hard and not being able to show your progression, whether that is an individual or team effort. Fans are an unwavering audience who consolidate good performances and provide reassurance after poor ones: we are always ready to defend our teams. We provide a legitimisation to football that it is worth its progression: if it weren’t for us, football would have stopped being relevant a long time ago.
Financially, fans do not contribute as much as we may think. Ticket sales do not account for a large proportion of club profit; despite popular opinion, advertising is one of the biggest money-makers. But this still proves my point. Companies pay millions to sponsor clubs or advertise at their stadiums and they would only do this if there were a guaranteed audience for their logos to be seen by. Enter the countless football fans worldwide who will tune in most days of the week to watch their beloved team. Without this dedication, there would be no economic interest for companies to invest and football would not turn a profit. Fans provide the incentive for this growing commercialisation.
Still, believing that football centres on profit and that fans are merely consumers is too simplistic anyway. Football is not all about money, as I have articulated before (see my Chelsea case study here). Football is a culture. In the same way that financial investment and inflation has flooded the football industry, so has appreciation for the fans and their efforts. Here I’m thinking about the growing habit of players applauding their fans after a game, particularly with away fans. It may seem trivial but this is not something that was the norm even five years ago and it makes a statement about the value we hold.
This was also emphasised last season with the ticket price protests and the subsequent ‘capping’ that clubs implemented to help ease the often-outrageous prices we are expected to pay for games. The fact is, fans would have continued to pay whatever it costs to support our teams, but we matter enough in the hierarchy of football to be listened to.
Fans are the steadiest part of football (Arsenal fan TV is the anomaly here). We may not be at the top of the hierarchy, but we’re powerful. Football will always need us.